Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Technology

Best Practices for Removing All Data from Your Equipment before Disposing of it

Most people have some data that they would rather not share with others such as passwords, email, personal information, data from work, financial records, addresses, phone numbers, and the list goes on and on. Perhaps you have created and saved this information on your computer, an external device (hard drive, USB flash drive, etc.), or on your smart phone PDA/cell phone where it is conveniently at your reach but when the time comes to remove the data from your hard disk, things get a bit more complicated and maintaining your privacy is not as simple as it may have seemed at first.

Your first thought is to remove the files by deleting them. So you move the files to the recycle bin or erase the files from your device and, "presto", the data is gone. Not quite. When you delete files, the operating system does not really remove the files from memory; it only removes the reference of the files from the file system table. The files remains on the disk until another file is written over them, and even after that, it might be possible to recover data retrieving it with a disk maintenance or an undelete application.

So... now what do you do? How do you recycle that old equipment so that others will never have access to the data on it?

Removing Data from Computer Equipment (Computers, External Hard Drives, USB Flash Drives, etc.)

Before that equipment leaves your possession make sure to remove ALL the data on it.

  • Make sure the drive is completely erased ("wiped").
    • You can either do this yourself using a utility tool that overwrites every sector of the hard drive multiple times. There are many tools that meet Department of Defense security standards for overwriting each sector multiple times for added protection.
  • You can also bring your equipment to a reputable computer repair vendor. There is a fee but it will be worth the peace of mind you'll have knowing your data has been fully erased.
    • Technology Support also provides this service for a nominal fee. Please contact 508.286.3900 for more information.

WARNING! ONCE YOUR DATA HAS BEEN ERASED YOU CAN NEVER GET IT BACK! PLEASE BE SURE TO BACK UP ANY DATA YOU WILL WANT TO KEEP! REMEMBER TO KEEP THAT DATA SAFE AS WELL.

Removing Data from Smart Phone Devices, PDAs, and Cell Phones

Mobile devices, such as a Treos, Palm Pilots, iPhones, or regular cell phones, are often replaced more frequently than computer equipment. These devices can carry such data as cell phone number, addresses, other contact information as well as some of the same kinds of personal data a computer may store.

Many users think that by just "resetting" the device that it will erase the data. Nope... not true because most of these devices store the data in Flash Memory. So in some cases even by removing the battery or letting it completely discharge the data could still be there. Some of these devices may need to reset by doing a "hard reset" which brings the device back to the original factory settings.

Due to the hundreds of PDAs, cell phones, and other smart phone devices currently available it is always better to check with your service provider (i.e. AT&T, Sprint, etc.) or the device manufacturer for specific directions to remove all data before swapping, trading it in, or disposing of it. Some service providers can also do this for you upon request remotely which comes in handy if you ever lose the device.

Some tips:

  • If your device comes with a SIM card remove it and keep it in a safe place. A SIM card is actually a portable memory chip that holds all your data. If the next item you replace it with uses the same SIM card all you will need to do it is install it to use it.
  • My favorite... just destroy it!

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